ParentClick Santa Barbara

Celebrating the Evolution of Fatherhood


As Father’s Day approaches, it’s time to think about fatherhood and how it has evolved.

A recent article in Parent Magazine titled “The Incredible Science of Fatherhood” reveals studies that show physiological changes in men’s bodies after they become fathers. I am not talking about “empathy pounds” here, but chemical changes that take place in a men’s brains. As Kayt Sukel, author of Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationship, put it, “Parenthood is exactly the kind of event that you might expect to harness the brain’s natural neuroplasticity to help prepare individuals for the adventure that awaits. Given the sheer number of physical changes that a woman goes through, you’d expect that some major rewiring might be happening in the brain. But work in animal models suggests that Dad’s brains are getting a bit of reorg, too.”

Specifically, when a man is involved in caring for an infant or a young child, the amount of testosterone he produces can decrease and the amount of prolactin and cortisol produced can increase. Whether these changes last or are temporary depends on how involved the father is in the day-to-day activities of raising his child. So much attention has been paid to how women’s bodies change as a result of becoming mothers. Enormous focus has been given to how women’s roles as mothers have changed over the years. A 2010 article in Marie Claire by Hilary Stout reported that in 2008-2009, “three men lost their jobs for every one woman that did, and as a result… for the first time ever, women make up the majority of the workforce. Four in 10 mothers are now their households’ primary breadwinners, and an estimated 143,000 unemployed fathers of children under 15 are caring for the kids full time while their wives work.”

I could not help but notice the number of fathers picking up children from school as I waited at a traffic light in front of an elementary school the other day. I loved watching the fathers holding their children’s hands as they crossed the street, the student backpacks put on Dads’ shoulders, the excited looking faces of the children describing an event of the day to their fathers. Something different is going on when it comes to fatherhood and it is happening right in front of us. The recent Recession is just one reason for the change in fatherhood in our country. We also have to include: technology, individual family logistics, evolution in our society’s ideas of acceptable roles for men, and now physiological changes that take place in men’s bodies when they become fathers.

Whatever the reason or combination of reasons for seeing more fathers actively involved in the day-to-day activities of raising their children these days, we need to take a moment to appreciate and cheer the evolving father. The recent findings about fathers’ brains prove that fatherhood is more than it was previously understood to be. If the end result is more support, more involvement, more genuine interest, more love from Dear Old Dad, the changes are welcome. I hope the changes also translate to more appreciation, support, involvement, interest and love for the Dads in our lives too.

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday 2013]

June 6, 2014

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